Showing posts with label Anti Gay Russia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anti Gay Russia. Show all posts

January 30, 2017

Even In The Arctic Putin Will Get Your Pride Event Banned in Russia

If you are gay and you live in Russia, how do you work on getting your civil rights? Can’t do it on the streets because you can’t even go to the corner and say you are “Gay” because you will be breaking the law and will be jailed before you are allowed to run and hide. So how about going all the way up to the arctic and have a Pride walk there to bring attention to your plight. Good idea but even that the Putin government wont allow and with Putin’s internet hacking he finds out about protests even before they happen. 

Moscow Pride
Russian police officers detain a gay rights activist with his flag during an attempt to hold a gay pride parade Sunday in Moscow, Russia. Russian police have detained around a dozen protesters demanding the right to hold a gay pride parade in Moscow. Associated Press
An LGBTQ pride event in the Arctic circle, in the town of Salekhard, Russia, has been banned due to the “gay propaganda” law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2013.
Police have banned around 300 people who were looking to march on Jan. 29 in what was named Polar Pride. The city administration cited the so-called gay propaganda law, which bans providing information about homosexuality to minors. They claimed the march would be harmful to children’s “health and development.”
The same law was used in defense of a 100 year ban on gay pride marches in Moscow, the nation’s capital, handed down in 2012. Moscow Pride began having marches in 2006 and continued through 2011, in spite of repeated homophobic attacks against demonstrators.
Nikolai Alexeyev, who leads Moscow Pride, has helped activists apply for permits to hold Pride parades across Russia. They have been denied in Arkhangelsk,, Yekaterinburg, Cheylabinsk, Sarank, St Petersburg, Tula, Tver and Vladimir, reports Gay Star News.
Nikolai Alekseev at en.wikipedia
Nikolai Alexeyev is interviewed by a TV station at a Moscow Pride event.
“It will, if necessary, brought to the European Court of Human Rights,” said Alexeyev, who is also a lawyer and journalist. He added that the law is in violation of Russian’s constitution, which protects the right of the people to freely assemble.
“Putin’s politics on gay and lesbian issues is a breach of human rights,” said Stein Sebastian Fredriksen, director of Norway’s Tromsø Arctic Pride.
“It happens in broad daylight and nobody does anything about it. It makes me shocked, it makes me sad,” he continued.
Police in Russia continue to break up attempts at LGBTQ rights demonstrations. Holding Prides in smaller communities is even more important than in bigger cities. In smaller communities, there’s not a lot going on and a lot more prejudice. It’s important to build an identity as a LGBT person and to give the greater society opportunities to celebrate diversity.
“This is one of the best ways to celebrate as well as for societies to get to know each other.”
Fredriksen concluded with a word of hope.
“I give them my strong support. I want them to know democracies around the world are monitoring what is going on in Russia and we stand with them and support them,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is set to speak with Putin by phone on Saturday. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said she expects they will speak about issues on which they have “common ground.”
Conway specifically cited the attempt to “defeat radical Islamic terrorism.”
Yet with Trump’s administration filled with those with anti-LGBTQ views and voting records, his worrying Supreme Court nominees list, and with his own support of the discriminatory piece of legislation known as the First Amendment Defense Act, there is reason to worry that Putin could be one more bigoted voice whispering in our new president’s ear.

December 23, 2016

Russian Immoral Morality Preacher Drives Gay Teacher to be Fired

A self-styled Russian campaigner for morality in schools has boasted about the dismissal of a teacher he describes as a "lesbian" and "satanist". 
"Another school purge of an LGBT teacher," Timur Bulatov wrote on Russia's version of Facebook, called vKontakte. He professes to be fighting decadence because he is a pious Muslim.
He sent a dossier on music teacher Maria Shestopalova to her school bosses in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. 
She says they then forced her to quit.

Timur Bulatov (photo: vKontakte)Image copyrightTIMUR BULATOV (VK) 
Image captionTimur Bulatov delivered a crude tirade against Ms Shestopalova on social media

Ms Shestopalova, 21, told the BBC she had been summoned by the heads of Krasnoyarsk Further Education Centre No 4 immediately after Mr Bulatov's denunciation of her.
"Without understanding the situation properly the director rang me on Monday evening and said, very unpleasantly, that she was expecting me in her office at 9:00am on Tuesday, and advised me to tender my resignation," she said via vKontakte.
She said they spent six hours questioning her and applying pressure by citing the reputation of the school, the other teachers and her parents.
She resigned after that, she said. 
"Evidently they had no desire to establish who was right and who was wrong. Having decided that this solution would be easier for them they pressurised me, to make me quit."

Treated 'like a child'

She said the school had sent a letter to Mr Bulatov immediately after the meeting, telling him that she had been fired. She told the BBC that they had treated her "like a child - it was simply inhumane".
School director Olga Etsel, interviewed by Russian news website Meduza, denied Ms Shestopalova's allegation about psychological pressure. And she said the meeting had lasted 90 minutes, not six hours.
A Russian law passed in 2013 controversially banned the spreading of "gay propaganda" among minors.

Maria Shestopalova (pic: vKontakte)Image copyrightMARIA SHESTOPALOVA
Image captionMaria Shestopalova says she wants to teach at a private school now

Reports say the Russian interior ministry is investigating Ms Shestopalova's behaviour. 

Body piercing

Mr Bulatov condemned her for wearing lip and ear piercings and for "supporting LGBT sexual deviants and promoting homosexuality". 
He wages his "morality" campaign from St Petersburg. On vKontakte he claims to head a movement called "First Moral Russian Front". He calls himself "Timur Bulatov (Isaev), social activist".
Ms Shestopalova accuses Mr Bulatov of hounding her from her job. She says he heaped abuse on her in a telephone conversation, and she is now taking legal action against him.

A Russian policeman watches a rally by LGBT activists, 1 May 15Image copyrightAFP
Image captionA Russian policeman watches a rally by LGBT activists in St Petersburg

Russia's ban on "gay propaganda" angered human rights activists and the international gay community. The law suggests that homosexuality - described as "non-traditional sexual relations" - is alien to life in Russia. 
Many homophobic attacks have been documented in Russia.
Mr Bulatov told Russian news website that he had "rescued" Russian children from 65 "immoral" teachers. 
On his site he posted the 31-page dossier on Ms Shestopalova, with a long message denouncing her. 
"This teacher clearly does not meet the standards of her profession and can harm her pupils. We demand that Maria Shestopalova be sacked for amoral behaviour," he wrote. 
Ms Shestopalova said she had worked at the Krasnoyarsk school for five years, for a salary of about 8,000 roubles (£107; $131) a month.          BBC

Maria Shestopalova (pic: vKontakte)Image copyrightMARIA SHESTOPALOVA
Image captionMs Shestopalova seen here with some unidentified friends

December 1, 2016

In Russia Healthy Living and Family Values is giving them an Increase of Straight HIV Transmission

 Do You Know What Dec.1st is?(Even if You don’t use condoms, now there is no reason to get HIV in many countries, ask me!


- For a few weeks in 2012, Yury had a family: His wife, Katya, had given birth to a girl.

But when Yury took his ailing baby daughter to the hospital two months after she was born, he learned that she was HIV positive, and his world began to collapse. After he was tested and came up positive, he said, Katya told him that she had given him the virus -- and had known she had it while pregnant but kept it secret from him out of fear.

A month later, their daughter was dead. Katya, who refused to take antiretroviral therapy to prop up her ailing immune system, died last year.

"We didn't separate or run away from each other. We went to the end," said Yury, a 40-year-old auto mechanic from a gritty Moscow suburb who preferred not to be identified by his surname. "I've come to terms with it all. How can I blame the person who gave me a daughter?"

Russia's HIV epidemic passed a grim milestone in January as the country registered its millionth HIV-positive citizen -- double the number in 2010. About 200,000 of that million have died since HIV was first registered in Russia in 1987.

With less than one percent of the population of Russia's 142 million infected, the situation is less dire than epidemics that have ravaged Sub-Saharan Africa. And yet while the rate of new HIV infections across the world is ebbing, in Russia it is on the rise.

Russia accounts for the lion's share of infections in a Eurasian region, which UNAIDS -- the United Nations' program on HIV/AIDS -- says is the "only region in the world" where the HIV epidemic has "continued to rise rapidly." More than 93,000 new cases were registered in 2015 -- compared, for example, to 44,000 new diagnoses in 2014 in the United States, whose population is more than twice as large.

Yury does not know how Katya contracted HIV, but his own story fits into a trend that some leading experts say President Vladimir Putin's government must face up to fast: The number of Russians infected through straight sex is rising.

Vadim Pokrovsky, the longtime head of the Federal AIDS Center and an expert who has been tracking the disease's progress in Russia for almost three decades says the epidemic is advancing beyond traditional high-risk groups and spilling into general circulation.

Pokrovsky said that infections through heterosexual contact accounted for 45 percent of overall infections in 2015, compared with 10 percent 10 years ago.

He believes Russia stands at a critical juncture: The government should forsake what he casts as conservative policies that deviate from established global practice in the fight against HIV.

"I think it is now spreading into the heterosexual population," Pokrovsky told RFE/RL. "We can no longer keep on saying 'nyet-nyet' [Russian for "No-No"]. We have to urgently take measures."

'HIV Belt'

For years, the chief mode of transmission in Russia has been intravenous drug use, which boomed after the Soviet collapse as the social fabric frayed and factories shut down or slashed workers' jobs, particularly in industrial towns in the Urals and Siberia. Rampant drug abuse tore through cities on the heroin trail from Afghanistan westward in the 1990s and 2000s, forming something of an "HIV belt" across central Russia where the virus remains most prevalent today.

Pokrovsky believes the situation is moving from a "concentrated epidemic" among at-risk subgroups such as injecting drug users to a "generalized epidemic" -- defined by the World Health Organization as a situation with "HIV prevalence consistently exceeding 1 percent among pregnant women."

Pokrovsky said that in over 15 of Russia's 82 regions, more than one out of every 100 women who becomes pregnant has HIV.

"The trouble at the moment is that the number of people contracting HIV through heterosexual sex is rising," Pokrovsky said. "We cannot say that these transmissions are connected to the traditional vulnerable groups."

Other experts say there has been no major shift in the way HIV is spreading in Russia.

In e-mailed comments to RFE/RL, UNAIDS said that "the majority of the new HIV cases in Russia remain concentrated among key populations -- particularly injecting drug users and their sexual partners."

But almost all agree on the need for urgent action in Russia, where several factors -- including the persistent stigma attached to homosexuality, a strained health-care system, a lack of education about risks, government pressure on NGOs, and logistical problems that critics say have been created or aggravated by the state -- are making the HIV/AIDS problem worse.

Rising Concern?

There are some signs of new attention from the government, and the media that serve it, to an issue that was long considered peripheral.

Recently, newspapers such as Komsomolskaya Pravda, a popular pro-Kremlin tabloid, have carried stories with headlines like: "HIV can happen to anyone: go out and get tested!"

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev declared the situation a matter of "national security" in March, and on October 20 signed off on a five-year strategy to combat the crisis through 2020. 

But despite the indications of increased concern, activists, doctors, and NGO workers fear that the new government plan remains hamstrung by the same conservative, go-it-alone approach that has stymied efforts to rein in the epidemic so far.

Among other things, the strategy prioritizes raising awareness, with the help of NGOs, among "key groups of the population." But in a common point of criticism, Pokrovsky said the strategy fails to clarify how the government plans to work with key HIV risk groups such as injecting drug users, sex workers, and gay or bisexual men.

"No one has answered the question of how we are going to warn people about the circulation of HIV among drug users -- although about 20 percent of intravenous injecting drug users already are infected," said Pokrovsky. "Nothing is said about how to prevent the infection of the remaining 80 percent."

"The same goes for sex workers," he told RFE/RL. "There is not a word about prevention among them. Everyone knows there are many of them. But there are no special programs planned for this group. The same goes for men who have sex with men."

The state "just does not pay enough attention to prevention -- prevention is very weak in Russia," Pokrovsky said, adding that this is reflected in government funding to fight HIV. "If 18 billion rubles ($278 million) are spent on treatment, only 400 million rubles ($6 million) go to prevention."

Zero Tolerance

There are no well-known state outreach organizations or programs working with high-risk groups. This is the exclusive preserve of largely foreign-funded NGOs such as the Andrey Rylkov Foundation For Health and Social Justice -- the only group in Moscow that distributes clean needles, contraceptives, and medication to drug users, the main group incubating and spreading the virus.

The Rylkov foundation receives no financing from the Kremlin and relies on grants from abroad. In July, the group was labeled a "foreign agent" under legislation signed by Putin early in his third term in 2012 that pressures and marginalizes many NGOs with foreign funding.

Foundation activists also encounter street harassment. In October 2013, police threatened to arrest activists who had traveled to a pharmacy in a rundown district in southeast Moscow where they handed out clean needles, bandages, condoms, and ointments. The police ordered them to disperse, prompting them to move to a new location where they continued their work. 

Although 1 million Russians have been registered with HIV in the last 30 years, Pokrovsky estimates there could be another 500,000 living with the virus who have not been identified -- many of them injecting drug users.

"Over half of our cases are contracted through drug use," said Elena Orlova-Morozova, a doctor at the Moscow Region AIDS Center. "It is very hard to identify HIV in this group and make progress with this group. Drug use is criminalized here and there is no talk of decriminalizing it."

“Drug users therefore are scared, of course, and cannot go to state buildings [such as hospitals] to be monitored,” she added. 

Activists also criticize Russia's refusal to legalize heroin substitution therapy which has been used widely across the world -- including in authoritarian countries such as Iran -- to wean drug users off heroin by giving them orally imbibed methadone.

Anya Sarang, head of the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, dismissed Medvedev's strategy as more of the same policy that has brought the epidemic this far. She suggested that one big obstacle to improvement is the growing prominence during Putin's third term of conservative ideas, anti-Western sentiment, and views espoused by the Russian Orthodox Church leadership.

"I guess the Health Ministry is still trying to figure out the 'Russian' and more godly way to deal with the problem since they are not in favor of internationally accepted, evidence-based prevention programs such as needle and syringe distribution and opioid substitution therapy," Sarang said.

'My Son Died Today'

LaSky, an HIV NGO that works with homosexual and bisexual men in Moscow, has not been labeled a foreign agent despite receiving money from abroad. But it has had to adapt to other restrictive legislation passed during Putin's third term.

On a November afternoon, Aleksandr, 29, a shop director who moonlights at LaSky, pasted "18+" stickers onto fliers and pamphlets about HIV and homosexuals so as to avoid being accused of violating a 2013 law that criminalizes the spread of gay "propaganda" to minors.

Rights groups and Western governments say the law marked a major setback for gay rights in Russia, encouraging prejudice and adding to the stigma attached to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Russia, where homosexual relations were a crime in the Soviet era.

Ilya, a 20-year-old gay man who has attended counseling sessions at LaSky, has felt the stigma firsthand since he contracted HIV in December 2015 and was disowned by his family, which is prominent in his Siberian hometown. 

When he called his mother with the news of the test result, she said "my son died today" and hung up the phone.

Ilya, who did not want his last name published, said he became depressed and fell behind on his studies at a Moscow university. When exam time came in May he asked for an extension, citing his HIV status and a doctor's note, but was swiftly expelled, he said.

"In Russia, HIV-infected people are not seen as people who need help and are sick, but as people deliberately spreading the plague," said Ilya.

Activists at LaSky say the lack of information about HIV is a major problem. Aleksandr, a gay man from a Volga River town who preferred not to be identified by his surname, said he had no idea when he contracted HIV in 2013 that sexually active gay and bisexual men are at a high risk of infection.

"This information is nowhere, no one talks about it, no one knows anything about it," he said.

Activists say sex education in schools is grossly insufficient. At his high school, Aleksandr said, there was just one lecture that talked about condoms -- and it focused on using them to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

"There was nothing specifically about HIV," he said. "No one in the regions gets that. As a rule, they say superficially that there are sexually transmitted infections and you need to use a condom."

LaSky offers support in getting around a major logistical hurdle for many HIV sufferers in Moscow: The state guarantees free medical treatment for citizens, but only in the locale whether they officially reside -- and many Russians who live in the capital formally remain residents of their hometowns.

After Aleksandr tested positive for HIV, he had to travel back home -- 400 kilometers east of the capital -- for time-consuming treatment. He tried to hold onto his job by asking in advance for time off, but eventually was forced to resign. He has now managed to get registered for treatment by registering at the Moscow Region AIDS Center with LaSky's help.

Champagne, Not Condoms

Activists criticize some of the awareness campaigns that do exist, such as state-sponsored signs at Moscow train stations that make no mention of the use of condoms as a preventive measure.

One public-service poster sponsored by the Moscow government says simply, "Ignorance puts you in the risk group," without further explanation. Another suggests that adhering to traditional family values is key, warning: "Infidelity puts you in the risk group."
Pavel Lobkov -- a TV presenter who broke a taboo last year when he disclosed his HIV-positive status on the air on World AIDS Day, December 1 -- said condoms should be far more accessible.

"They should be handing them out free of charge in clubs where there is a heightened sexual atmosphere, or at rave parties, and so on," Lobkov told RFE/RL in an interview.

"When in a normal shop a pack of 12 condoms costs as much as a bottle of Soviet champagne, a couple of 18-year-olds will buy the champagne and not those boring condoms."

Lobkov said that "there were outreach programs for many years" -- but that times have changed.

"In the 1990s, I remember in all gay clubs or rave clubs there were free condoms at the bar," he said. They've disappeared now. They should be in your face" he said.

But social conservatives who have gained influence during Putin's public push for adherence to what he and the Russian Orthodox Church cast as traditional values tend to oppose such measures.

Lyudmila Stebenkova, a long-time Moscow legislator who heads the city Duma's public health committee, called on November 15 for a ban on the distribution of free condoms.

Stebenkova, who has won awards from the church, said condoms only offer 80 percent protection from infection and that their free distribution inculcates "irresponsible sexual behavior."

In a follow-up Facebook post, Stebenkova attacked foreign NGOs whose methods she called "strange and even irresponsible: giving out one-use needles to drug addicts and propagandizing condoms, which they give out even to schoolchildren." 

“In Moscow we decided to go down a different route: the propaganda of healthy living and family values," she wrote

June 7, 2016

Gay Men in Russia 'Easy targets for Crime Gangs’

Image result for anti gay russia


Criminal gangs in Russia, operating through gay dating sites, have found a lucrative new blackmail target: homosexual men.

A St. Petersburg economist, one of their latest victims, said several men burst into the apartment where he was meeting his date. Claiming that his date was under age, they threatened to call the police and to release a video they had secretly filmed unless he paid up.

The gay rights group Vykhod, or Coming Out, said they registered 12 such attacks in St. Petersburg in 2015 and at least six more gay men have come to them so far this year. LGBT activists believe the real number is far higher and say the attacks have increased in the past two years.

Since homosexuality finds little acceptance in Russian society, many gays keep their sexual orientation hidden from their families, friends and co-workers. This makes them easy extortion targets for criminals.

Vykhod spokeswoman Nika Yuryeva said most of the recent attacks have followed the same pattern as the one seen by the St. Petersburg economist.

Alexander Loza, a legal adviser at Positive Dialogue, an organization that provides consulting services for gays, particularly those living with the HIV virus, has heard similar stories.

“Many gay people in Russia lead a double life, unwilling to disclose their sexual orientation to their family or at work,” Loza said. “In the case of such setup dates, they are afraid to disclose their status, to be accused of pedophilia, and therefore they are afraid to appeal to the police.”

The activists said Russian criminals have been emboldened by a 2013 law that made it a crime to expose children to gay “propaganda,” part of a Kremlin-backed effort to defend traditional family values and counter the influence of what it considers a decadent West.

Alexander Zhelezkin, who manages outreach programs at Positive Dialogue, said the law was what made him decide to become a gay activist.

“Now, my coming out is my defense,” he said.

For prominent television journalist Anton Krasovsky, however, that move ended his career in Russia. He was fired after he came out on the air in 2013 and hasn’t been able to find a job in television since.

Krasovsky said it will be a long time before gays in Russia feel protected enough to speak publicly about their sexual orientation.

“To stop being afraid, they need to begin to trust the state where they live, but they don’t trust the state where they live now,” he said.

The St. Petersburg economist, however, did go to the police. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of fear that his attackers, who know where he lives, would seek retribution if they learned that he had reported them.

The economist, who gave his age as “about 30,” said he thought they were lying about his date being a minor. But he said the attackers beat and threatened him – and suggested they had friends in the police force who they said would lock him up on fabricated charges.

He said they demanded more than 100,000 rubles ($1,500). One of them took his bank card and cleaned out his account, and they released him only after he agreed to transfer the balance the next day, he said.

The crime gangs who carry out such attacks are not necessarily anti-gay, but have identified a profitable niche where they feel they can operate with impunity, Loza and Yuryeva said.

The economist agreed.

“They commit these crimes not because they are homophobes – they are simply taking advantage of the situation,” knowing that few people would go to the police after such an experience, he said. “I think they are just common criminals who chose this kind of method.”

St. Petersburg police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said he had not heard about these blackmail cases and said he wasn’t aware of any anti-gay attacks being registered in the city in recent years.

He offered to check with the specific police station that the economist reported the crime to, but the economist didn’t want to draw public attention to his case by disclosing which station it was.

Timur Bulatov, an anti-gay activist who claims to have helped get a number of teachers fired after outing them as homosexuals, said he sees no need to resort to the blackmail used by criminal gangs.

“Why attack a sick person? Such a person needs treatment,” he said. “I have a bunch of legal methods to use to influence such a person, to put pressure on him.”

Bulatov, who wears camouflage outfits and carries a handgun in a hip holster, said gays are the “enemies” of Russian society and its children, but should be opposed only through legal means.

He said the law banning gay propaganda among minors was intentionally made vague so it can be applied in a wide range of circumstances. The law, for instance, has made it easy to target gay and lesbian teachers in Russia because they work directly with children.

The federal law was modeled on a 2012 St. Petersburg law authored by Vitaly Milonov, a city lawmaker and outspoken opponent of LGBT rights.

“This law is a preventive measure. It was introduced not to punish anyone, but to prevent such public actions as gay parades, because parents in Russia don’t want their children to see these things,” Milonov told the AP.

Milonov, who has a large portrait of the Russian Orthodox Church patriarch on his office wall, said his mission was to promote “normal” families with many children.

“There is no oppression of homosexual people in Russia,” he said. “When gay organizations complain of such harassment, they do it in order to get more money from soft-hearted Europeans.”


May 2, 2016

Why do many Russian LGBTQ members support Putin’s presidency?

Image result for putin and lgbt


When Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay legislation made headlines around the world, his regime became synonymous with homophobia and the struggle for gay rights in Russia. So why do many Russian LGBTQ members continue to support his presidency?

Six years ago, Karina Krasavina, a DJ originally from Volgograd, founded the L-Word party, a women-only event in central Moscow. She hoped to create a space in which like-minded women could meet, fall in love and feel free. But in the eyes of the Russian law, her job is seen as provocative.

“What I am doing involves certain risks. I can’t agree with recent legislative developments, I think they are wrong” she explained on a break from her DJ set in the club’s dressing room. “But I absolutely support Vladimir Putin when it comes to parades in Moscow. I am personally against gay parades and I don’t want to propagandize.”

A regular L-Word attendee, Yulia Astakhova, complained that she doesn’t feel free in Moscow due to the recent homophobic legislation and society’s enduring prejudice that regards homosexuality as “unnatural.” But when asked about her attitude to Putin and the existing regime, she smiles: “I support Putin. I like my president and I am proud of him. He is strong, he is a leader. He knows what he wants and he takes control.”

Russian politics is never linear. Both Krasavina and Astakhova reflect an identification as LGBTQ and support for Putin’s presidency that is not so unusual, with support for Putin often a proxy for patriotism. This political juxtaposition also reflects the internal divisions within Russia’s LGBT movement as a whole.

At a recent L-Word party, many women were hesitant to talk about politics and activism, nervous about causing more unwanted attention and trouble. Their fear highlights a growing unease with activism in Russia which has deeply affected marginalized and oppositional political groups.
Indeed, some members of Russia’s LGBTQ community view Pride events, parades and gay activism as a potential trigger which could ultimately bring about a dangerous backlash. Often, those that organize marches and parades are viewed with suspicion, seen as naive, reckless and seeking to self-promote while endangering others.

The movement has been hurt by the increasing number of LGBTQ activists fleeing the country. According to statistics from 2015, by the end of the fiscal year, 1,454 Russian nationals filed new asylum applications, up 50 percent from the previous year and more than double that filed in 2012. Immigration Equality reports that their caseloads have jumped from 50 to 60 requests for assistance from Russian LGBTQ people in 2012 to 180 requests in 2014, according to Al Jazeera. Not only has this drained the Russian LGBT community of resources and leadership, state-media reports of fake asylum cases have cast a shadow over activists’ credibility.

“I support Putin,” said a frequent L-Word attendee. “I like my president and I am proud of him. He is strong, he is a leader. He knows what he wants and he takes control.” 

In Russia, there is also a lack of cohesion between gay rights and the mainstay liberal, opposition movement. Either such figures — politicians, activists and journalists alike — are prone to homophobic prejudice themselves, or avoid touching LGBTQ issues for fear of being prosecuted under the propaganda law.

Fear and lack of a united front have considerably weakened and divided the LGBTQ movement in Russia, limiting its development and opportunities for open discussion.

Such divisions are not unique to Russia. The American gay rights movement also experienced self-criticism and internal divisions over the tactics and goals of the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage. Some LGBTQ activists argued that the campaign diverted attention away from more pressing issues — such as combatting AIDS and transgender rights — and some factions questioned the cultural value of marriage within the LGBTQ community.

So too, civil rights campaigns on behalf of different marginalized groups have a history of cooperation as well as friction. In the US, gay rights organizations have sometimes sparked pushback from some African-American civil rights leaders who argued a gay rights political agenda had unfairly coopted the national conversation on equal rights. And the American suffrage movement bitterly split after the Civil War over passage of the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, which granted voting rights to all men, including black men, but not women of any race.

Text by Francesca Ebel, a Russia-based multimedia journalist. @FrancescaEbel

December 1, 2015

The Queen of war torn Luhansk Mikhail Koptev was good- until the Tanks Arrived

Koptev modelling at an Orchid show organised as part of the recent School of Kyiv art biennial. Image: Sasha Kurmaz
Even drinking on the street in Luhansk is dangerous. At any moment a military patrol could walk past and demand to see your documents. Being seen to be drunk, they say in these parts, is a good way to “end up in the cellar” of the rebel fighters, which at the very least means losing all your money — and perhaps something even worse. Offering blow-jobs to the brusque men of Luhansk, some of whom are dressed in army fatigues, isn’t the safest thing to do either. But fortunately on this particular Saturday those walking past were just a little frightened by Koptev’s come-ons. 

The self-taught fashion designer Mikhail Koptev really is the star of Luhansk. They know him in Brazil. He was a star long before the arrival of its other celebrities, the field commanders and the head of the Luhansk People’s Republic, Igor Plotnitsky. When he was 14, Koptev escaped from a monastery near Rostov in Russia, where he was sent to be educated at the age of seven. He returned to Luhansk, where he went to college to learn to be a shoemaker, throwing his heart and soul into fashion, his first love. When his family used to send him food parcels, he would pore over the pages of the foreign magazines that they used to wrap them in.

No-one who has seen the Orchid’s erotic show, live or online, will ever forget it
Koptev began working as a model at the local fashion house, Nuance. He modelled at army barracks and miners’ headquarters in and around Luhansk. He then became the commercial director of a theatre, before founding the Orchid, where shows thrilled with “absurd clothes, fantastical hairstyles, bizarre body art and hardcore erotica”. Soon the Orchid gained fame outside of Luhansk as well. Before the war, film crews from television channels in Moscow and Kiev often came to interview Koptev. On the Ukrainian version of the talk show Let Them Talk they debated whether his work was fashion or pornography. Vice sent an interviewer to visit him, who, in stunned admiration, declared Koptev to be the world’s finest trash designer.

No-one who has seen the Orchid’s erotic show, live or online, will ever forget it. Photographs from one of the performances have become an internet meme, bouncing from site to site with various sobriquets (one site published it in its “Shock of the day” section). Unattractive men and women – young girls and boys, old men and old women — strut across the room in odd costumes, displaying parts of themselves that usually stay covered. Naked flesh daubed with vulgar body art frolics in torn negligees made from fur, leather, plastic, old rags, horns, skulls, hub-caps, children’s toys and anything else you might find at a rubbish dump.  

Mikhail Koptev in his modelling days

Koptev’s creations shun all that is pure, harmonious, polite, peaceful, traditional. It is deranged trash art, which aims to defile the concept of beauty. Koptev believes that “art should provoke”; you want to run away from his creations – just as once in a club Fillip Kirkorov, a  well-known Russian pop star, once ran away from him, drunk and naked, and with horns made from tree branches on his head. 

“Oi!” Koptev bellows at another passer-by, his big jewelled hands wrapped around his cup of vodka. “Here’s to you! Here’s to you and your cock!” The passer-by hurries away.

“I have known Misha for 15 years”, says Tatyana Litman, who for the last 35 years has managed Luhansk’s largest cultural centre, where Koptev hosted the first performances of the Orchid. “First he asked me for a place to put his clothes. I was imagining suits and dresses, not heaps of garbage. Then he began to put on shows. He told me to come to see them, that there would be a surprise.”

Naked flesh daubed with vulgar body art frolicks in torn negligees made from fur, leather, plastic, old rags, horns, skulls, hub-caps and children’s toys
There was a surprise all right. Litman remembers her first Orchid show. “The hall was full. But as the show started, I was sat on a couch with my head in my hands, praying to God that my bosses wouldn’t come in. It was appalling: painted naked bodies; horns, tails and dead cat skins draped over little girls and boys. The audience went wild.” Despite Litman’s reaction, Koptev brought more erotic shows to her Stalinist-era theatre. She only showed him the door when a Russian TV channel did a feature on him, and she started to fear for her job.

Wild Orchid 3
Luhansk in 2015, after recent conflict. Image: Denis Boyarinov.
It's hard to imagine a worse place for erotic shows and provocative gay culture than Luhansk today. The town is pock-marked with bullet holes from snipers, and all its windows are shattered. I am talking with Tatyana Litman in a cafe on the street outside Luhansk’s trade union building, which has been taken over by the Federation of Trade Unions of the Luhansk People’s Republic. A list of contacts for the administration of the unrecognised republic hangs on the glass doors of the building, alongside an appeal by its Ministry of Emergency Situations for citizens not to walk on unfamiliar streets, where it is possible to tread on unexploded land mines.  

Everyone remaining in Luhansk, whose population is a quarter of what it used to be, has a story to tell about how they have survived. They are all similar to each other: gunfire like clockwork; hiding in basements; anxious, sleepless nights; Chinese whispers about gruesome rumours; long queues for water broken up by gunfire, and hauling heavy water buckets up flights of stairs; food shortages; batteries and candles becoming the most valuable currency; not being able to contact relatives outside Luhansk. Those who endured the blockade talk a lot about the material problems of war, but say nothing of loved ones and neighbours who died or were wounded — their heads try to block out the horrors that they have seen.

Now the town, still trying to recover from the war, is enjoying a poor but relatively peaceful life. The factories have stopped working, and electricity, water and mobile reception is still cut off, but a few cafes and restaurants have opened again. Their clients are predominantly armed men in mismatched camouflage gear. There is almost no shooting in Luhansk at the moment. It gets particularly quiet at 9pm, the start of the curfew, when people are scared to go outside in case they end up in the cellar, and are scared to drive anywhere in case their cars are hijacked.

In the town where LGBT activists once published a magazine and planned to organise a parade, and where there used to be gay discos every week, people can now only find each other on the internet
The separatist fighers have become Luhansk’s wealthiest class – a new military elite, whom people are afraid of. The girls of Luhansk dream of meeting a fighter from abroad, making him fall in love with her, marrying him and escaping with him as far away as possible. In the town’s main park, pensioners in their Sunday best dance the waltz as an orchestra plays, just like on Victory Day. Locals joke that pensioners are the town’s second wealthiest group of people, because since April they have started to receive their pensions again: about 2,000 roubles a month — barely enough to stay alive.

The day after our vodka-fuelled interview at the cultural centre, we are sitting on leather couches in Koptev’s small one-bedroom apartment on Kommunalnaya street. He has lived in this prefab box for the last 10 years. But in comparison with the poverty of the surroundings (the hallway doesn’t have any radiators – alcoholic neighbours sold them as scrap metal), it is an oasis of opulence: renovated, with an air-conditioner, a wardrobe with a sliding door, raspberry-coloured curtains, a brown leather sofa, Swarowski crystals coming unstuck from threadbare cushions, and on a bed-side table a book titled Strategies of Brilliant Men.

Wild OrchidMikhail Koptev. Image from Koptev’s archive
Over a glass of dessert wine, Koptev talks about how his good life came to an end as soon as the war started. Just as the cultural centre had battled until the bitter end to make people happy, so did his house of provocative fashion. “It was April 2014. We travelled to a show at a nightclub outside of Luhansk," says Koptev. "We got there through a shower of bullets. In May the TV channel Ukraina invited us to Kiev. For this trip I couldn’t get any models — they had all fled from Luhansk. I had to use my mother-in-law. I say ‘mother-in-law’: she’s my lover Fairycake’s mum. She knows all about us, so I call her my mother-in-law”.

“I still want to live — and to live in style. But when?”
For the last year Koptev has halted his tolerance-testing performances, no longer arranging shows and gay parties. As soon as the Luhansk People’s Republic came into being, it became obvious that those in control were set to persecute the LGBT community. First there were rumours that homosexuals would be shot on sight. Then a strict anti-gay law was discussed, and they even named the date when it would be passed. The gay people in the Luhansk region didn’t wait for the repression to start, they left for wherever they could: Rostov and Voronezh, Kiev and Crimea. Luhansk’s rainbow faded as the skies got darker: in the town where LGBT activists once published a magazine and planned to organise a parade, and where there used to be gay discos every week, people can now only find each other on the internet.

But a new kind of hero has emerged recently: the rebel fighter. “Fighters from Moscow are especially active on our dating sites,” explains Koptev. “They have no fear at all. They write things like, 'I’m the same as you and I want to try it.'"  

By the book
Education versus intolerance at Moscow’s new gender school
Joining the rebel fighters in Luhansk is easy; people do it out of desperation, as there are no jobs in the town. “My man gave them a couple of medical certificates and was admitted the same day. They didn’t even do any health checks,”  says Koptev. “And the guy has been an unemployed drunk, a junkie and a convict. He fits right in!”

Taking another sip of wine, Koptev starts telling me blood-curdling stories about the ordinary people of Luhansk having to face these armed men in strange uniforms. “Trust me man, everything is really scary here. To you it might look like I’m sat here on a leather sofa, so audacious and beautiful, wearing silk shirts… But anyone here with any money fucked off a long time ago. I keep asking myself: ‘Misha, you’re a girl who will turn 46 in August. How do you see your future? It’s always either been the USSR, the crazy 90s, the war, or the Luhansk People’s Republic.’ And I still want to live, and to live in style. But when?”

Suddenly he changes the subject: “Everyone thinks I’m a monster, but it’s not true. People classed as evil by this evil world may in fact be saints. And those considered to be saints often turn out to be evil.” Luhansk’s devil incarnate, dressed in a teddy-bear jacket, announces: “I think I’ve started talking shit.” He raises his glass again: “Let’s drink to you, mate!”

September 18, 2015

Fired Russian Teacher Gets Support from Gays in St.Petersburg (Vid.)


In November, Anastasia was a well-respected teacher giving music classes at a school for disabled children in St. Petersburg.

By December, she was unemployed and battling a nervous breakdown, her teaching career in tatters.

The young woman, who gives her name only as Anastasia, was fired from her job after being exposed as homosexual by an antigay activist.

"I couldn't understand why I was being dismissed, because I hadn't done anything wrong, I hadn't violated any laws," she tells RFE/RL. "I don't shout about my [sexual] orientation at the top of my lungs, I don't go around carrying a banner. I just live my life, I work, I play music, that's all."

Anastasia's plight underscores what gay-rights activists say is deeply entrenched homophobia in Russia, where a controversial law banning the promotion of "nontraditional sexual relations" has been in place since 2013.

A poll released by the independent Levada Center in May showed that a majority of Russians either despise, are irritated by, or are suspicious of sexual minorities. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they perceived homosexuality as a disease, and another 18 percent said homosexuals should be prosecuted.

Rights campaigners have criticized the antigay law as an attempt to further marginalize Russia's already-embattled lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

At the same time, they argue that the legislation has spurred Russian homosexuals to take a bolder stand, disproving recent claims by Vitaly Milonov, a notoriously homophobic St. Petersburg lawmaker, according to whom all gays have been "squeezed out" of the city. 

Milonov, who has suggested that gay people "rape kids," was the driving force behind the legislation.

Shaking The System

Anastasia herself was summoned by her school director after he received photographs showing her embracing her girlfriend. The pictures, collected from her private account on a social-networking site, were sent to the school by a Russian antigay activist who claims to have "outed" more than 30 teachers across the country.

In a letter posted online, the activist called Anastasia "a sick lesbian teacher who presents psychiatric abnormalities."

Fearing a scandal, the school director demanded that she immediately resign from her job on the grounds that her homosexuality made her unfit to have any contact with children. He also reportedly told Anastasia that people like her "should be burned at the stake."

After her refusal to step down, she was swiftly fired for "immoral behavior" -- a phrasing that effectively puts an end to her teaching career in Russia.

Anastasia, however, is determined to restore her professional standing and right what she feels is a stinging injustice. She has sued her school at a court in St. Petersburg and, after losing her case, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. A decision is pending.

Anastasia has since unwittingly become a gay-rights activist. She says she is contacted almost every day by Russians pushed out of their jobs for being gay. "It's not so much the school I'm fighting as the politics," she says. "I want to shake this system, even just a little bit. I want to give hope to those who are being forced to resign."

Not 'Squeezed Out'

As pointed out by Milonov, several leading gay-rights campaigners have indeed left St. Petersburg for the safety of Europe. But they, too, insist that their departures don't herald the demise of the gay-rights movement in St. Petersburg and beyond.

"The country doesn't belong to Milonov," says Irina Fedotova-Fet, a prominent LGBT campaigner who moved to Luxemburg several weeks ago. "There are many Russian activists, including young ones who are flourishing, fighting, and taking action. I'm not handing the country over to Milonov, I'm simply giving way to the younger generation."

Fedotova-Fet chose to leave after being badly beaten up close to her home in downtown Moscow last month. A photo posted on her Facebook account shortly after the assault shows her face beaten and bleeding. 

Fedotova-Fet has now applied for political asylum in Luxembourg. After a decade fighting for more tolerance of sexual minorities in Russia, she says she has “done her bit." 

t. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov (right) was awarded a medal last week by President Vladimir Putin for "service to the Fatherland."

St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov (right) was awarded a medal last week by President Vladimir Putin for 
St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov (right) was awarded a medal last week by President Vladimir Putin for "service to the Fatherland."
"I fought as long as I could," she says. "When I could no longer fight, I left."

A number of LGBT rights groups currently operate in St. Petersburg, including Vykhod, the Coalition for Civil Equality Together, the Russian LGBT Network, and Side by Side, Russia's first LGBT film festival.

Vykhod says a new generation of activists determined to face down intolerance is emerging in the city. In May, they were able to convince local authorities to let them march at St. Petersburg's May Day parade, an unprecedented victory for Russian homosexuals and one of the few gay-rights rallies whose participants didn't end up being assaulted.

Hundreds of people joined the LGBT march, carrying banners with slogans including "We were, we are, we will be."

Milonov was there, too, shouting slurs at the marchers and waving the flag of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. "Let me rip his head off!" he shouted, pointing at one marcher. 

Activists, in turn, handed out lollipops of Milonov's face with a speech bubble saying, "Don't suck in St. Petersburg!"

Some of the march's organizers chose to sue Milonov for his comments at the rally.

Aleksei, 23, became active with LGBT rights groups last fall and was one of the march's organizers. A court in St. Petersburg is scheduled on September 23 to hear his lawsuit against Milonov, who faces charges of discrimination, hooliganism, libel, and incitement to hatred. "If we want things to change, such actions must not go unpunished," Aleksei tells RFE/RL.

Aleksei acknowledges that some prominent Russian gay-rights campaigners have moved abroad over the past year, but he says LGBT discrimination was not their sole motive to leave Russia.

“One person leaves," he says, "several others take his place."

August 21, 2015

Gay Film “Pride” Runs in Anti Gay Russia to a Standing Ovation

The Russian poster for ‘Pride' (Photo: Arthouse/Instagram)

Hit British film Pride (2014) was released in Russia, despite the country’s outlawing of “gay propaganda”.

A distributor called Arthouse, specialising in independent and foreign films, has taken on the British comedy, which premiered at last year’s Cannes film festival. Directed by Matthew Warchus, the film centres on LGBT support of the 1984 miners’ strike. The beginning and end of the narrative take place at the annual Pride parade in London; in June 2012, Moscow courts enacted a hundred-year ban on such gay pride parades.

Arthouse was founded in March this year by Sam Klebanov. His previous company Cinema Without Frontiers, which distributed lesbian romance film Blue Is the Warmest Colour, suffered financial collapse.

Homosexuality is legal in Russia, but difficulties faced by LGBT individuals and groups have increased in recent years. In 2013, Russian lawmakers banned “propaganda” that promotes “non-traditional sexual relations”, with scrutiny even extending to so-called “gay emojis”. In line with the law, Pride will carry an 18+ certificate.

**The film is a success
 [‘Pride’ screened in theaters despite the country's anti-gay laws]

In a city where gay pride parades are banned and LGBT activists are routinely arrested for staging demonstrations, a movie about gay rights premiered without so much as a protest. Pride, the British comedy that was released internationally last year,  made its Russian debut in Moscow last week. Based on the true story of gay activists who united to help a U.K. miners' union in 1984, the movie has since been screened in more than a dozen theaters across seven cities nationwide, according to the Hollywood Reporter. 

Its release is notable considering the country's anti-gay law, which bans "propaganda" that promotes "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors. The 2013 drama Blue is the Warmest Color was the last LGBT-themed movie released in Russia, the same year as president Vladimir Putin signed the anti-gay bill into law. The legislation came a year after Moscow courts decided to prohibit gay pride parades, a ruling that has drawn criticism from human rights organizations around the world. LGBT activists have risked arrest to host the Moscow Pride Parade every year for a decade.

"As the Western World is becoming more liberal about same-sex marriage, Russia is rolling back to the dark ages with its anti-gay propaganda law," Russian film distributor Yan Vizinberg told The Reporter. His company, Arthouse, rallied to release the film nationwide, despite being given a restrictive rating that prevents anyone under the age of 18 from seeing it. 

Vizinberg and partner Sam Klebanov said local reactions to the film have been overwhelmingly positive, with the Moscow premiere earning a standing ovation.

Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter. 

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